Statement by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA)
1st August 2019
Members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee yesterday acknowledged that the vast majority of early learning and care services in this country offer caring and nurturing services.
To mitigate against the small number that do not, several safeguards are in place. These include the Tusla Inspectorate, the Department of Education and Skills Inspectorate of ECCE services, the Better Start Quality Development Services and local Childcare Committees.
An important safeguard lies in Children First legislation. Where there is any concern regarding the welfare of a child, the Tusla Social Work service should be informed. They will consider this information and where deemed necessary, inform the parents. All staff working in early learning and care are "mandated reporters" under Children First legislation and are required, in law, to inform Tusla of such a concern. Training has been made available to them to assist with this duty.
The Tusla Early Years Inspectorate was given significant additional powers three years ago. It has the power to: -
- Maintain a register of early years’ services.
- Place conditions on that registration, or to refuse to register, or to remove a service from the register where that service is not operating in accordance with the regulations.
- To prosecute a service that has not complied with a condition of registration.
- To prosecute a person or persons who are operating an unregistered service.
- To re-examine the registration status of every service on at least a three-yearly cycle.
Now that the Tusla Inspectorate is well established, the early learning and care sector is seeing the steady applications of those powers. For example, Tusla de-registered five services in the last 18 months resulting in their closure and attached conditions to 95 services this year alone (an example of a condition attached may be that a staff member who has not been garda vetted must be removed from having any contact with children until the vetting is in place. When evidence of vetting is provided to Tusla the condition is lifted). Other services closed voluntarily due to being unable to meet the standards required.
Whilst Tusla has said that Inspectors rarely see children being treated the way they were in the recent RTÉ Investigates Programme, it is important to note that Inspectors do not rely solely on what they see during an Inspection. Tusla also uses other verifiable evidence received from other sources, which, when combined with information from inspection visits, can be sufficient to prove a case against a service. The information received by Tusla's Unsolicited Information Office is critical in this regard and has contributed to enforcement action since its establishment.
Only services that are registered receive funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Registered services are published on Tusla's website, www.tusla.ie/services/family-community-support/pre-school-services/
The Minister announced in recent days her intention to add to Tusla's powers. New powers being explored include: -
- Powers to close a service immediately where it has failed to register (rather than having to go to Court);
- Powers to immediately close a service (already registered) where Tusla has evidence of very serious breach of regulations;
- Powers to inform parents as early as possible regarding ongoing investigation / proceedings; and
- Power to require services to display in a prominent position the registration status, and any conditions attaching to the service.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) has also committed to exploring powers to send in an interim management team, for services that have been closed, to enable families to opt for continued service provision under new management. DCYA has also committed to preparing guidance for parents on what they should look for in terms of the quality of their early learning and care service.
With regard to the 37 services at the highest level of Tusla's enforcement process, DCYA is not aware of the identity of these services. Tusla has told the Department that it is usual practice that the majority of these services make the necessary improvements to the standards of care and hence are de-escalated from this level of concern, and, if they do not, they will be de-registered. This trend in improved compliance is based on Tusla's experience in recent years. Tusla has assured parents that where there was any child protection issue raised, this would have been referred to their Social Work services and parents informed.
The Minister has asked Tusla to update her on the status of all 37 cases. Tusla has agreed to this. Tusla has also confirmed to the Minister that all services it has de-registered in the past closed immediately. If for the first time, following de-registration, a service does not comply with the law and close its doors, Tusla will use all its existing powers to seek the courts' support for closure. This information would be available to parents as the service would be removed from the published list of services.
Any parent or staff member with concerns about the protection and welfare of a child should immediately contact their local Social Work service.
Any parent, or staff member, with general concerns regarding the quality of service their child is receiving should contact Tusla through their Unsolicited Information Office as follows:
By email: email@example.com
By Phone: 061 461700
By Post: Unsolicited Information Office
Early Years Inspectorate
Parents with queries about service availability in their area should contact their local City/County Childcare Committee (CCC) in the first instance. CCCs are available to provide support and guidance to local service providers and parents in relation to the childcare matters at local county level. Contact details for all CCCS can be found at www.myccc.ie .
Early learning and care services who wish to avail of quality supports can contact their local Childcare Committee which can offer support or make a referral to the Better Start Quality Development Service.